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Master Plan

Monty “The Iceman” sent me an email the other day along with some photos of a new house he has built in the Philippines. Since my asawa and I are planning to start construction on a new home here within the next three years, I’m always trying to obtain as much information on building in the PH as possible.  Monty graciously sent some text to go with the pictures. Here’s “The Iceman’s” story: 

Whenever my wife and I are in the Philippines, we stay at my mother-in-law’s home. This lifestyle is rudimentary at best, as you all know. There is no indoor plumbing, no refrigeration, no air conditioning, and so forth. Of course, for my Filipino family, numbering 17 members, this is not a problem. It’s what they have known their entire lives. As for me, the kano “tourist”, it is akin to camping out for weeks on end. After a while, you just want to go home, clean up, eat a good meal and sleep in your own bed.

With plans to permanently retire to the Philippines in a couple of years, and after launching a small business over there last year, it was time to seriously think about building our own house. That way, we (really just me, since my asawa is fine with the old way) would have the true comforts of home: a toilet that flushes, a septic tank, hot (yes!) and cold running water, air conditioning, tile floors, and windows with screens, as well as some privacy from those 17 family members.


I started doing some research on individual Filipino home builders, as well as some planned communities with paved streets, gates, and model homes. The problem with these communities was the distance from Talavera, where the family and my business are. Also, the cost was prohibitive, with the house and lot costing upwards of 2.4 million pesos. Probably worth it, but we don’t have that kind of money.

The flip side of that coin was my father-in-law, telling me he would build our house for the cost of materials alone. While that sounds nice, I have seen my father-in-law’s work and….enough said. While I love the man, I’ll just say that his standards are not the same as mine!


Trying to get individual builders to submit drawings and floor plans via email to me in the U.S. was next to impossible. I would get so angry and tell my wife, “Here I am offering them some business, and they act like they’re not interested! Don’t they want to make money?!!” I still don’t know the answer to that question.

Re-enter my father-in-law: he says he knows a local architect that has designed and built some nice homes in the area, and is trustworthy (interpreted as: if he screws up, we know where he lives!). And, he can do the job for a reasonable amount of money. Okay, send me a plan, a list of materials, and an estimate, said I. And, he did! It looked good. So, I sent him some money and the project is under way! The construction crew broke ground the first of October.

Monty, thanks so much for the pictures and the story. I can absolutely relate to the need for privacy, CR with a flushing toilet and air conditioning. Seventeen relatives living there? Wow! I thought the ten we had when we first moved to the Philippines was a lot. While we do enjoy the home we are renting in the subdivision we are living in outside of Iloilo City, nothing is set in stone.

We are keeping our options open and want to explore the surrounding areas in the next couple of years. We certainly will not have unlimited funds once we can tap into our retirement account. That will most likely be the last property we both live in and want it to be the most comfortable we can afford and still remain within our budget.


24 thoughts on ““‘THE ICEMAN’S’ STORY: BUILDING OUR HOUSE IN THE PHILIPPINES” [Flashback* 11.11.2011]

  1. Can you say money pit. I also had house built in Philippines while not being there, big, big, mistake. My wife hired her nephew who is an engineer and was working for contractor in Manila building houses. We paid him above going rate for engineer to supervise the work and buy the material. We thought that we would get a quality job by doing this. Work started in 2000 and finished in 2005 because I think this was the only work in the baranggay and everyone needed to make a living, so everyone got to work on the house for six months and then they would change workers. After spending over 1,20,000.00 dollars to have house built, every year when we visit for a month, we are still putting money into it to fix the problems which wasn’t done the first time correctly. When not there we are still sending money to her sister to repair problems. Don’t get me wrong, I did not mind paying the money to build the house as long as I got quality work and material but this did not happen. The house is 2 story sitting on lot which is 150 meters sq which my wife bought from her aunt before she died. There is another circle jerk story about just getting title to property to build on it so relatives do not come out of wood work to claim same. The house is approx 2600 sqft. 4 bed rooms on upper floor 2 1/2 baths. The down stairs has kitchen, dining room,living room and computer room and car port. Dirty kitchen enclosed with windows and approx 2500 gal water tank in floor and 500 gal on roof. Hot and cold running water. Central Air which I bought and shipped door to door,saved me $6000.00 by not having done locally. The roof is tile because I did not want to be going around after typhoon to look for same like locales with G.I. tin. Most material came from Cebu or Manila. I own 2 houses in Southern Calif and part owner of house in Okla. And all 3 of them together do not cost me as much to maintain and repair as the one in the Philippine. This was going to be part of our retirement. Living in Philippines for six months and six in states, but going on fix income my wife is having second thoughts if we can afford same. Also where the house is located we have to think about quality of health care as we are getting up in age.

    1. Well, George, it does indeed seem like you have an ongoing nightmarish situation with your house in the Philippines. You’ve shared a lot of good information that will be beneficial to others though at a great personal cost to yourself. Got some good nuggets of info concerning the water tanks,tile roof and the the Central Air. Property title problems are a huge issue in the Philippines. A person has to be extremely careful before buying any property and make absolutely certain the person selling the property has a clear title. Lots of disputes over property which even lead to bloodshed among relatives in some cases.

      Some folks like Bob in Iloilo who has recently completed his own home construction project have been successful but not without some pitfalls on the way. His website has a lot of good details on the whole process along with Rich over at Philippines or Bust. My asawa and I are in the planning stages for our new home, still almost three years away before we can start construction, and our experience with my wife’s home in Guimaras with the construction of the new CR and the roof has given us a little insight on what to do when we start the actual building process of our new home. I personally don’t want to rent. I’m 13 years older than my asawa and chances are I’ll be leaving this earth before she does. I don’t want her to have to be concerned with making any rental payments. Our new house will be paid for in full when it is built.

      But thanks again for sharing your story. Everyone has to make their own personal decisions of course as to what they want to do. Some folks rent. Some folks buy. Hopefully, when we do build we’ll have a trusted crew to work with and put some of the money-saving tips you mentioned into practice.

  2. I read about all these horror stories about difficulty getting title, bad quality, costs. But then everyone still wants to build and own their own home.

    If your paying p25k($580) for rent of a house, that would be like paying a mortgage for 17 years on a $120k balance, not including interest. It does not seem to make much sense in owning a property.

  3. Dave – understood. Its all a personal decision. My wife has my life insurance, so am sure she will be packed and off to Vegas with a new younger version of me in no time 😉

  4. Monty,

    I will give you my input. Take or leave it but know that it is given in the spirit of friendship. The reason that the architects were not interested in sending you house plans was because they wanted a big payday. It is my understanding that they along with the contractor routinely skim a subsatansial portion of the budget. Padding the material costs usually nets the contractor roughly thirty percent. I believe this is the elusive answer to the question that you raised at the beginning of your post. I have seen houses built by foriegners in my area that exceeded the five million peso price tag that did not come close to the size or quality of house that cost right at 2 million pesos with the extension and remodeling. Since you have already started your project you need to find a way to monitor it closely. There is a simple rule that you can take to the bank or the poorhouse. “Everybody is friends until money is involved”. You are a foriegner so there are no loyalties toward you. I hope that I am wrong and you are happy with your construction but think about this. Would you give a contractor in the US a blank check? Hopefully your father in law will protect your interests.

    Dave I am with you as far as home ownership goes. I want to be able to change what I want and not be held hostage to rent increases. I was lucky that I married a sugar momma that already had a nice home when we met. When we came back for good we doubled the size of the house and added some extra creature comforts, I would recommend avoiding contractors like the plague. Someday over numerous frosty San Migs I will explain how we managed to do so.

    1. Sorry the word was substantial but you gotta admit my typo is pretty ominous.

  5. Thanks, guys, for the comments so far. Hope to hear many more! I realize it is not the ideal situation. I would prefer to be on-site from start to finish on this project. But, I cannot. Still, things seem to be going very well, and for that I am grateful. Once my asawa and I arrive in March to close on the house, we shall see how it turned out. I will be honest in my assessment and let you know through Dave’s blog.

    I seriously violated the 3-hour rule (or 3-mile rule, or whatever it it!??) by building next to my relatives’ home. It’s more like 30 feet! Heck, we (meaning my wife!) own most of the land now, that had formerly belonged to mother-in-law and her 8 brothers and sisters. We are going to build a new store to house my ice business on another piece of that land (so I can quit paying rent on the present space). Easy to say now, of course, but I also enjoy my Filipino family, especially my little nieces and nephews. So, it made sense to build there. If I live to regret it, it’s my own fault. Like you all, I plan for this to be my last home, and when I pass (I’m 20 years older than my asawa), she and our daughter will have a home, free and clear.

    My requirements for this home were pretty simple: a small house, but an elegant one, with lots of outdoor living space, and fully paid for. Since it’s in the middle of a rice field out in the countryside, that doesn’t sound hard to accomplish, but I’m imposing my American standards here, too.

    I will continue to add commentary as more questions and opinions come in. Thanks for the forum again, Dave!

    1. Monty,

      Sounds like a nice house when its done. Hopefully it will be completed by the time you go there in March. You live in Nueva Ecija right? My G/F lives in Bataan, but is from Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya. She is currently there right now visiting her family. Her father will be moving back to Nueva Vizcaya sometime in the future. They have property there. So she will be living in the house with just her niece in Bataan and continue to run her internet cafe. They also have a rice field in Bataan. You can get alot of good info from other readers on this site, which i have in the past. I will be coming there in October next year and planning in moving there in July/August 2014 when i retire. Good luck and hope it all works out for you.

      1. Thank you, Papa Duck. Counting down the months until summer 2014, eh? I know how that is! Glad to hear from someone else doing business in Luzon, for a change. These other guys are mostly from Visayas ;D !

  6. Dave: I understand the desire to build and own… Truly, I do. And it is a personal decision. However, I could not imagine even beginning to try and build something here from abroad. Some comments:

    1. Central air is a money pit in the Philippines. Why? Your electric bills in Talavera will go through the roof. Two reasons: A. Central air is always “on”, maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the house. B. Very few homes here are properly sealed or insulated (Even if you buy foreign material… I can virtually guarantee you will spend years trying to seal up that house.).

    2. Get the title finished before you even lay one more brick. Family land is no guarantee, either. With the inheritance laws here, fights among siblings are common. You are building the house for asawa for security. What happens when someone shows up 15 years from now with a duplicate title? Remember, our 3 1/2 year squatter battle is on family land, and still not resolved. If you need to buy or build, the safest option is from land or subdivisions owned by Ayala or one of the big land groups… The titles are 99.999% clear already.

    3. Nothing wrong with buying a condo…. Clear titles.

    4. I would always live here first for a while (not just visiting) before buying anything. If things go south, you are stuck.

    After dealing with the squatter issue, even Rebecca has cooled significantly on the idea of owning. Yes, the financial security issue is there, but I’ve recently been told that if she ever owns something (and I mean SHE… wink wink), it will be purchased from one of the big developers.

    1. I agree about Central Air if you do not plan a head when designing house. I designed mine by what they call Zoning. That is where you install Central Air and put thermostat in each room and as each room is satisfied for temp it will close off air and put more air into room which needs more air. Or if room is not being used you can turn stat off and no air will go into that room. Also I insulated my attic with insulation I found in Cebu. I also found a chemical which was designed by the U.S military which you mix into the paint on outside walls which also cuts down on heat transfer through the walls, also bought in Cebu. I could tell the differant before and after of the heat coming through outside wall. The only problem I am having is finding energy efficient windows that doesn’t allow heat in and air out or water into house during typhoon. As for energy cost I pay no more than what I pay here in states when using A/C. My unit cycles off as long as you can get the family to keep from leaving doors open every time they enter or leave. And as they say you pay for your comfort.

  7. Dave: Here in Manila, we have window units in my office, both bedrooms, and our sala. There is usually one running all day long (or a substantial part of the day). We have been averaging around P8,500 per month.

    1. Dave,

      I have air cons in the bedrooms but have not needed to use them because of the improved ventilation. We just use the ceiling fan at bed time but turn it off around 3 or 4 am because we are cold. High ceilings, cross flow windows, and attic ventilation will really make a house livable. Our monthly electric consumption has been pretty consistent at 3200 per month with the hardware store included on that meter. Here we seem to have lower electric rates. milder tempetures, and no typhoons.Gary lives near Davao which is similar climate wise but I believe the electric rates are a bit higher there.

  8. Thanks for all the comments,guys! Dave, check out the Panasonic Inverter air conditioning system. That’s what I went with. It should conserve on the energy bill.

    We paid (dearly) for bills of sale, back property taxes, a land survey and clear title to our property. We also have two squatters on our land! I understand the custom is to pay them a few hundred pesos and send them on their way. We intend to knock down their flimsy dwellings and do something else with the space.

    Never underestimate the power of the asawa! She has told her tatay, in no uncertain terms, that he is held accountable for the quality control on this project! He is on site every day and I trust him. He also knows what his American son-in-law expects!

    1. All A/C Manufactures are coming out with the same consept. Except each one gives it a different name. The way it works is they take ac voltage and convert it to dc voltage so their motors can run at slower speeds which is suppose to save energy and not burn up the motors. They are making Central Air units this way now in the states. It is just what ever your preference is. You can buy them to cool one room or whole house with evap coils hanging on walls. I installed one of these units in my bed room which I had built here in the states. It was made by Fujitsu and it also puts out heat in winter time just by reversing the flow of refrigerant. I bought it wholesale and installed it myself.

      But for the price I paid for it I could of bought a Central Air unit that would cool and heat my whole house. Make sure the one you buy, that they carry parts for it because off the shelf parts is non existance. My Fukitsu thermostat went out and I found out they only warranty it for 90 days verses 1 yr. Cost me $110.00 wholesale for new one.

      1. Yes I am in the ACR business, am trying to retire but customers will not leave me alone. I have a novel ideal, if you want to check on it while you are surfing the net. I was reading and seen pictures of people building houses out of used cargo containers, they come insulated or non insulated. You can stack them like building blocks, put windows and doors in them. I think they are doing this in Europe for housing. I also seen people somewhere in Manila that was living in these containers. Here in the states they build office, storage building, and the schools use them as concession stands for their ballfields. I was thanking about trying this myself, but the lot my wife had bought from her aunt was not big enough. And there was no way I could talk her into living outside of town. She is a city girl.

        I thought I would throw this ideal out here to see what people would think about this , thinking outside of the box and see what the pro and con would be for doing this in the Philippines, where they have a shortage of building material.

      2. I thought I recognized ol’ George! I think I asked him if he was available to service my ice machine, but he wasn’t in-country. I have never used the inverter-type of air/con, so just went with the recommendation. I was told it was more expensive to buy than window units, but less expensive than central air. The compressors will be outside the house, similar to central air, but they’re smaller. I agree with G’s logic: wouldn’t one big unit be the same as three small units? According to my father-in-law and the architect, no. And then there’s the promise of using less electricity to run the things. All I can say is, we’ll see!
        For heating our water, we are installing a heat pump. It works on the same principle G. described for the reverse-cycle air/con. By reversing the flow of refrigerant, it heats the water and exhausts cool air to the outside. Again, this will use less electricity than a hot-water tank. Also, I wanted one unit to heat water for the whole house, rather than one of those flash-heaters at every faucet.
        Once I am in the Phils. permanently, I’m going to look into solar panels and wind turbines to power my home and business. Lord knows we have enough land upon which to build the installation! Have any of you tried going that route yet?

  9. I just cannot see the need to build a house here in Tagum City. I live in a nice 2 bedroom 2 CR apartment. Paying only 5,000 pesos or 116.28 US dollars. What is a person to do when after a year the folks next door start a pig farm?? Sell and move somewhere else? Good luck with that.

    AIR CON?? Not for me. A fan will do just fine. If I wanted to be cold I could have stayed in Michigan. My wife Meriam lived where you do Dave for 4 years and she says it is very hot there. Nice people there but the weather was terrible. I do have a fan running on me all the time. Without the fan I get HOT. Meriam gets very cold with a fan and doesn’t like them. Our electric bill this past month was just a tad over 800 pesos, maybe 850 but I am not sure now. The first bill I paid when I got here was only 39 pesos. The lady just looked at me and then asked Meriam how could our bill be so low. Meriam just said we don’t use much. 🙂 Life is swell here in the Philippines. I just go with the flow and enjoy each minute with Meriam.


    BTW – For you guys living outside the Philippines, what are you waiting for??? Come on in…the water is fine!

  10. As for A/C units. The inverters are the best way to go. It might cost more on start-up as you need a separate unit for each room, but then you only need to run one unit at a time. So during the worst days, can just sit in your bedroom with the unit running while watching the tube. For our Living room, we need two units as its a big space so usually will retreat from it during the day.

    I have only seen central A/C in older condos and homes. For us, our electric bill is about p7-8k per month. My friend with a 4 br older house, his is over p30k, but his rent is much cheaper so it all nets out the same.

    1. That’s “cool” Don! Nice to get some affirmation on that one! I’m trying my best to build this house right, but as alot of folks have stated, it’s a challenge from halfway around the world!

    2. Thanks Monty Man for the info, now I know where I can find more insulation for my house if I need it. Work always in progress to improve house.

      I have never had a 30,000.00 peso electrical bill when in the PI. I am sure my wife would of been bending my ear if she had to pay that. While there for a month, I have 2 Central Air Units 1 up stairs and 1 down. One or the other is going all the time or sometimes both going at the same time if people are taking naps up stairs. I have a frostfree side by side refrigerator going, a small refrigerator up on balcony, kept full of SM so I don’t have to walk to far to get a cold one while lady watching. I have a 40 gal hot water heater, water cooler for hot and cold bottle water, a 1/2hp water pump which keeps pressure in house so we can take showers up stairs and flush toilets. 3/4 hp motor to pump water from storage tank in ground to one on roof when it is low. A washer and drier that is used 4 or 5 times while there. Exhaust fans in bath rooms which I always find left on after people use. Micro wave being used, coffee pot on for 3 or 4 hrs aday. Lights left on when no one is using, and all the outside lights turned on at dark. We also allow the church which is next door to plug in to our outdoor sockets when they are having something going on and their circuits will not carrry the load. Plus I have to pay for the rental of the transformer on the power pole to my house because the one for the brangay would trip if I turned on the coffee pot and micro wave at the same time, so they said I would have to be on my own transformer.

      With the use of all the appliances,pumps, A/C, lights and what other else is going on that I do not know of. Our bill has never been more then 18,000.00 peso’s. I can usually cut this down if the wife does’t bring the tribe with her.

      1. Yea I know it is a little over kill. But the wife and I remember the time when there was no running water or electricity. And its still not much better. The water is only on during day and pressure is not enough to make it to second floor. Electricity is a toss of the coin if it is going to be on for the day. My wife has been here in states for 45yrs and she likes her luxuries as I do. I am getting ready to ship a generator door to door so we will have power during brown outs. Cheaper to buy it here and ship, then buy same in PI. My wife is retiring next month and hopefully I have talked her into trying out to live in the Philippines for six months to see how it works out.

  11. Hi, I really enjoy reading the post and stories here. I have a fiance there in Iloilo and hope to retire there. Reading the topics and the added comments by everyone, makes me wish I was there now. But for now I am still stuck here in Canada in the cold and dreading the winter that will be here soon.

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